Chokecherry

As the flowers from the Pin Cherry tree drop away, the white flowers of the Chokecherry emerge to take their place on the landscape.

The woody plant known as Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) grows as a shrub or small tree under 30 feet in height. It often grows in dense thickets and in damp, rich soils.  The five petal white flowers grow along racemes emerging from this year’s twig growth.  In several weeks these flowers will transition to produce red berries. (1)

As the name “Chokecherry” suggests, these cherries are very astringent when eaten raw. However, when the cherries are cooked they mellow out and become more appealing to our taste buds.  There are many recipes out there for Chokecherry jams, jellies, syrup, and wine.  A quick web search will reveal hundreds of options to choose from.

Chokecherries are also noted for their medicinal qualities. Mother Earth News states, “An infusion of the mature black bark is thought to be a remedy for headache, fever, worms, diarrhea, sore throat and coughs, bronchitis, heart and lung problems, and it is also used as an eyewash. This astringent cherry bark tea is sipped in the springtime by Indians, homesteaders, and mountain people as a cleansing spring tonic.”(2)  There is even mention of Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, was revived from illness by a chokecherry remedy.

At this point, it should also be noted that the cherry pits, the stems, and the leaves of this plant contain hydrocyanic acid which can make it toxic.  There is quite a bit of information out there about livestock poisoning as a result of eating Chokecherries and some cases of children being poisoned as a result or ingesting leaves and cherry pits. (3)  Always make sure that you can 100% positively identify a plant before eating it and always ask a local expert if you are new to foraging for edible foods.  

Or, you can not worry about foraging these cherries and just enjoy the amazing beauty of this flowering trees and leave the cherries to the birds and the bears.


Resources:

  1. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Prunus virginiana
  2. Mother Earth News: Chokecherry Delight
  3. Ohio State Weedguide: Common Chokecherry

7 thoughts on “Chokecherry

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  1. Lots of interesting information there. I liked the mention of Lewis and Clark. One of my relatives claimed that we were related to the Clark in that expedition, but, so far, I haven’t seen definite evidence.

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